Joe Mathews: Pope Francis, you should come to California

Pope Francis waves to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. Joe Mathews says he should visit California on his U.S. tour in September.
Pope Francis waves to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. Joe Mathews says he should visit California on his U.S. tour in September. The Associated Press

Dear Pope Francis:

You may be infallible, but your scheduler? Not so much.

The itinerary for your highly anticipated trip to the United States in September defies belief: You’re not coming to California. Holy Father, that’s like visiting Italy without going near Rome.

The scheduling omission (you’re visiting Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C., instead) is glaring, for two reasons. First, your top priorities dovetail with California’s most serious problems. Second, there are California controversies for which you bear responsibility and that require your attention.

So, at the risk of seeming presumptuous, I’ve taken the liberty of drafting a California itinerary that should fit your needs, and ours:

You’d fly into San Diego and head to Mission San Diego de Alcala, the first mission of Father Junipero Serra. Your plan to make Serra a saint on your U.S. visit has stirred up controversy here, given the decimation of the Indian population in Serra’s mission system. At the same time, this is a huge moment for Californians, who learn about Serra’s importance in grade school. Either way, canonizing Serra was a big decision that you should own by doing it in California – and in San Diego County, home to several Indian tribes.

From the mission, your next stop would be the U.S.-Mexico border, to reiterate your call for the better treatment of immigrants around the world, particularly Mexicans who cross our border and are subjected to, in your words, “racist and xenophobic attitudes.” Another venue for making that exhortation could be in the Riverside County city of Murrieta, site of ugly protests against Central American refugees last year.

From Murrieta, you’d head west toward Los Angeles. You could drop by the California Institution for Men in Chino – part of our state’s unconstitutionally overcrowded prison system – to wash inmates’ feet, as you have done elsewhere. The Inland Empire might also be a good place for a Mass focused on the problems of the poor; California has the nation’s highest poverty rate when cost of living and public assistance are taken into account.

From there, on to Los Angeles, the nation’s largest archdiocese and entertainment capital, with so many channels to spread the good news. You could tango with Ellen and do Kimmel. If you’re homesick, the food journalist Javier Cabral suggests a couple of restaurants – Carlitos Gardel, an Argentine place on Melrose with great steaks, and Union in Pasadena, with handmade seasonal pasta and what Cabral calls a “wine selection eccentric enough to impress a lifelong malbec drinker.”

Since climate change is a focus of yours in 2015 (how’s that encyclical coming?), you could then fly north to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta, the great, underappreciated estuary. If you’re feeling ambitious, maybe you could try to pull together the battling stakeholders in California’s water wars for dialogue and prayer. It couldn’t hurt.

From there, you’d head to San Francisco for a thorny bit of administrative business. You’ve been trying to reform the church hierarchy, and the San Francisco archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone, has alienated much of the Bay Area with conservative rhetoric and a stick-a-finger-in-their-eye style. Now he’s demanding that teachers at Catholic schools agree to morality clauses that oppose same-sex marriage, contraception and reproductive technologies.

That may be church teaching, but this is the Bay Area, and Cordileone’s behavior clashes with your admonishment that the church’s shepherds should “smell like the sheep.” So why not transfer Cordileone to, say, Alabama and replace him with a diplomatic, tech-savvy prelate who could credibly hold Silicon Valley titans accountable for antisocial behavior?

Once you’ve finished that unpleasant task, you could take BART to Oakland and talk Jesuit to Jesuit with another famously frugal chief executive, Gov. Jerry Brown. The former seminarian is a lame duck, and you’ve got financial management problems at the Vatican. Maybe you could hook him up with a new gig before you head back to Rome.

You won’t regret it, Holy Father. You and California – it’s a match made in heaven.

Very truly yours,

Joe Mathews

Joe Mathews is California & innovation editor at Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Connecting California column.